tofu

All posts tagged tofu

Braised tofu.  For some reason, the very concept terrified me.  In fact, despite doing some very good braised dishes in my life (if I do say so myself), the whole technique seems exoAsian Braised Tofutic and difficult.

Then again, sometimes you have a meal (like the Fire Bird from Blue Koi made with braised tofu instead of duck) that forces your hand and suddenly you find yourself trying a dish you never thought you would.  Like

Asian Braised Tofu

… and finding it’s actually really easy.

Braising?

For those who are not familiar with braising, it’s a wet cooking method (meaning there’s a lot of liquid).  The most often used wet cooking method is boiling where food is completely submerged in liquid.  This tends to be a harsh cooking method and is good for leeching starches and flavor compounds out of the food.

On the other hand, when braising, the food is usually browned first and then covered halfway in a flavorful cooking liquid.  Having one half of the food (usually meat) uncovered allows for different flavors to develop while the food absorbs flavors from the cooking liquid.

It’s a great technique for tougher cuts of meat or for slow cooking dark meat chicken.

Braising Tofu

However, in this case, I decided I was going to braise tofu.  Because tofu is essentially a soft protein, I knew that cooking it for a long time was going to result in a big soy mess.  So I did three things:

  • Used firm or exra firm tofu
  • Precooked the tofu
  • Cut down the cooking time for the tofu

Ready for the recipe?

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Creamy Tofu-Enhanced Tomato SauceSo my friend @Nightblooms and I got on the subject of tofu one fine night on Twitter when she told me about this amazing tofu/tomato sauce she made for her family.

Never one to pass down the opportunity to let others do my work for me, I begged her to do a guest post on BlogWellDone.com.  She graciously accepted with the vaguest promise of a post from me in the near future (more on that later.)  But without further ado…

Creamy Tofu-Enhanced Tomato Sauce

Contributed by Marie Oliver

Food as medicine is a practice that is easily taken for granted growing up with restaurateur parents.  Living away from home for the first time as a young adult was when the ingrained habit revealed itself. I found myself grocery shopping for sometimes obscure foods and spices that supposedly improved health when consumed as a beverage or used as an ingredient in foods.

There is nothing obscure about the tomato, but did you know it was once considered poisonous?  The tomato is among a wide range of plants that are a part of the deadly nightshade family, avoided due to their toxicity.  Eggplant, peppers and potatoes are among the nightshade plants we relish as dietary staples.

The health  benefits of tomatoes are numerous, whether eaten raw or cooked.  There was a fascinating study initiated by a couple of Harvard scientists over 20 years ago that examined the effects of tomato products on prostate cancer in about 48,000 participants. Data was gathered and reviewed over a 12 year timeframe.  Although they claimed the study to be inconclusive, in the same breath it was asserted that there was a definitive reduction in the risk of prostate cancer in men who consumed tomatoes – about 45%.

The red pigment found in tomatoes is lycopene, an antioxidant or cell damage neutralizer.   Lycopene has also been said to inhibit growth of breast, lung and endometrial cancer cells.  However, for some who are allergic, tomatoes may be a health hazard.  If you suffer from hives, headaches or asthma symptoms after consuming tomato products, then step away from the fruit. Tomatoes also contain the chemical salicylate, which is an active ingredient in aspirin. So, if you have an aspirin allergy, talk with your physician about whether you should avoid food salicylates as well.

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So I am up to my old tricks again…  I did another live demo, this time with just two Twitter friends.  The audio quality is not so great at first, but it does get better.

For this demo, I made…

Ma Pa Tofu

I needed to do a cooking demo to prepare for my big demo on February, 25th (mark your calendars people!).  Originally I wanted to make mac and cheese using some Cabot cheese, but I had no milk.  Then I thought Indian.  I had no ginger.

What I did have the ingredients for was my absolute favorite tofu dish, Ma Po Tofu, which I gave the recipe for in my series on how to make tofu that doesn’t suck.  Here I am cooking it with @bunnyslippers and @eatlikeagirl who were absolutely great!

Hope you enjoy the tofu!

First off, happy thirteenth day of unResolution month.  I hope January is speeding along for you.  I know it is for me.

Okay, so something strange happened last night during my first vegan nacho post.  I got really into talking about the different faux meats and making vegan cheese and suddenly I forgot that I wanted to add an ENTIRE section on making tempeh and tofu to top the nachos  Once I finally remembered, it was too late for yesterday, but not too late for today!

So today I proudly offer…

Vegan Nachos Part 2

The inspiration for this dish actually came from an episode of Dinner: Impossible where Chef Michael Symon had to fix dinner for a group of cowboys and their families with one catch…everything had to be vegetarian.  Further complicating things were the fact that the cowboys weren’t in on the surprise (apparently veg*n cowboys are hard to find) and Symon’s bad attitude.

For his nachos, the original concept was to cook and crumble tempeh like ground beef on the nachos.  Good idea…

However, during the episode, some tofu, which was going to be used in sandwiches, got overcooked, dried up, and got chewy.  Rather than let it all go to waste, Symon chopped the tofu and sprinkles it on the nachos like grilled chicken.   So with that inspiration, here is my interpretation of those toppings.

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And so it comes to an end…

In Part 0 of How to Make Tofu That Doesn’t Suck, we looked at all the things you can do to prep your tofu before cooking.  Part 1 covered baking it, Part 2 deep frying it.  Part 3 examined how to stir fry tofu.  Part 4 was a list of sauces that go well with toful.

And now we are ready for the conclusion.  The grand finale…it’s Ma Po Tofu.

Ma po tofu (which is Chinese for so good you smack your mother POW! Okay, not really, it’s probably named after a Chinese street vendor named Ma who was probably fictious) is a traditional Sichuan dish that is made with tofu, ground pork, and a lot of chilis, including the infamous Sichuan peppercorns.

However, for me, this dish will always be special because it was the first Chinese meal I ate after becoming vegetarian.  It was so good and yet it didn’t have any meat…

So, I pretty much decided I had to learn how to cook it.  Instead of pork, I decided to go with seitan which has lead to this…

Ma Po Tofu

  • 1 block of extra firm tofu
  • 1 tablespoon of Sichuan peppercorns (optional)
  • 4 Sichuan chilies
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon of ginger, minced
  • 4 spring onions, whites sliced and the greens cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 package of seitan, minced
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of broth
  • 1 tablespoon of Sichuan hot bean paste
  • 2 tablespoons of corn starch

Okay, let’s start with a couple of notes.  First, yes the recipe is correct.  Use extra firm tofu.  Traditionally it is made with soft tofu, but I think by now you know what I think of soft tofu.

Secondly, substitutions.  If you do not have Sichuan peppercorns (available at Dean & Deluca and Whole Foods, but not at my local Asian market (?!)), omit.  Regular peppercorns are not the same.  Secondly, if you do not have Sichuan bean paste…go to the Asian market.  It is pretty much the key to this dish tasting right.

Okay, back to the recipe:

Press the tofu, cut it into 1/2 inch cubes, and prepare using your favorite method.  If you are in a hurry, you do not even need to press it, but of course, it makes the tofu taste better.

In a wok, roast the peppercorns until they become fragrant (about 1 minute) and remove from the wok.  Grind.  Dry roast the chilies until they turn brown and remove.  Smash in a food processor.

Add the peanut oil to the wok and let it get very hot.  Add the sliced spring onion whites, garlic and ginger to the wok.  Stir fry for 30 seconds, then add the seitan and stir fry for another 2 minutes.

Add the soy sauce, broth, Sichuan hot bean paste, androasted chilies, and bring to a boil.  Add the tofu into the wok and let it cook for 2-3 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix the corn starch with the corn starch to create a slurry.   Add that to the wok and stir until the sauce becomes thick.

Garnish with spring onion greens and Sichuan peppercorns.

Enjoy!

And this concludes my five (really six part series) on how to make tofu not suck.  I am going to be taking these posts, adding some pictures, and adding a few more recipes.   Who knows, I might even proofread.  Then I’ll turn all that into a PDF and put on the site for print and download.  More on that later!  Until then, start making tofu that doesn’t suck!

Back on track being relative… *sigh*

Anyway, this is part four of my groundbreaking series on desuckifying tofu.  As a fan of tofu, I firmly admit that it takes some finessing (or some deep frying) to bring out what makes it truly good.  Which is why in Part 0 of How to Make Tofu That Doesn’t Suck, we looked at all the things you can do to prep your tofu before cooking.  Part 1 covered baking it, Part 2 deep frying it.  Part 3 examined how to stir fry tofu.  Now, we’ll look at it sauces that go well with tofu and then finish up with my recipe for ma po tofu made with nice, firm tofu.

Tofu is an interesting ingredient.  When I first started cooking it, I thought that because it was made from soy beans, it would taste good with soy sauce.  FAIL.  Tofu needs much more flavor than just soy sauce.  This lead me to thinking about other sauces for it.

My favorite dipping sauce for tofu (or really anything is):

  • 1 part sriracha or hot chili oil
  • 2 parts soy sauce
  • 1 part Oriental yellow mustard

It’s salty, it spicy, and it’s just a bit o’ sweet.  Deep fry the tofu and dip.

For baked tofu, I strongly recommend mixing:

After you have baked the tofu for an hour, mix the tofu in the sauce and baked until the sauce is warm.

For stir frying:

  • 1 tablespoon of tahini
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar
  • 4 broth, chicken or vegetable

Mix in a bowl and add after the tofu and vegetables are cooked.  Bring to a boil and add a mixture of one tablespoon of corn starch/one tablespoon of water to thicken.

Other ideas:

  • 1 part ketchup and 1 part of soy sauce
  • Sichuan bean paste, broth, soy sauce, red chili flake
  • Minced garlic, olive oil, tomato paste

Those are my ideas.  What are yours?

Phew!  It’s been a bit of a ride, but I am finally back on track.

In Part 0 of How to Make Tofu That Doesn’t Suck, we looked at all the things you can do to prep your tofu before cooking.  Part 1 covered baking it, Part 2 deep frying it.  Today we’re going to be looking at how to stir fry tofu.  Next, we’ll look at it sauces that go well with tofu and then finish up with my recipe for ma po tofu made with nice, firm tofu.

Also, very shortly, I’ll have all of this information packed up into one, nice, easy-to-digest PDF for you to download.  But more on that as we go.

For now…stir frying your tofu.

As a cooking technique, stir frying offers you a number of distinct advantages, most notably that if you are short on time, you can stir fry your tofu without pressing it.  The results will always be better if you can press your tofu first, but in a pinch, this is the way to go.

Cutting Your Tofu For Stir Frying

The trick to perfect stir fried tofu is all in how you cut it.  Stir frying is the ultimate application of a lot of heat, a little fat, and a whole lot of stuff moving around.  This means you are going to have to cut you tofu into small blocks.

If you have no time for prep, when I mean small, I am talking about one-eighth inch thick slices.  Take the entire block of tofu, cut it in half lengthwise, and then make cuts every eighth of an inch.

If you have time for prepping the tofu, I would still not cut it any thicker than one-quarter of an inch.

The Stir Fry

A lot of stir fry recipes have you cook the meat first, then remove it, then cook some veggies, and remove them and so on.  When you are stir frying tofu, what I recommend doing is getting the oil nice and hot and then throwing the tofu into the wok.  Let it stir fry by itself for 3-4 minutes or until it is starting to go from golden brown to just brown brown.

Then remove it if you must.  Better yet, start adding in the other ingredients and let the tofu continue to cook.  The longer that tofu cooks without burning, the better it is going to taste in the end.

Stir Frying as Secondary Cooking

If you have the inclination, what a lot of restaurants like to do is deep fry their tofu first.  What I would recommend doing is cutting the tofu into one inch by two inch by one-half inch pieces, coating them in cornstarch and deep frying then until golden brown.  Once they have drained, they can be added towards the end of the stir fry process (give them at least 2 minutes to cook) and make sure they get coated in whatever sauce you make as they should soak up of that liquid and taste that much better.

Okay, what are you waiting for?  Next time we are talking tofu sauces.

Okay, quick recap:

In Part 0, we learned how to prepare tofu via pressing and that silken tofu is largely the suck unless its the shake or the cake.

In Part 1, we learned how to bake tofu to give it a firm outer texture and a moist inner texture that will keep your mouth from thinking sucky tofu.

Now, in Part 2, we will look at frying tofu.  Tomorrow will explore frying it, then saucing it, before finishing the series with an amazing recipe for vegan ma po tofu.  Mmmm… Also, after this series over, I will be releasing it as one PDF with images on this site.  Check back for more details.

And now without further ado… deep frying tofu.

Of all the techniques to make tofu, this one is the most likely to result in something you are going to want to eat. Deep frying pretty much anything makes it better, right?  Tofu is no different.  Still, there are some things to take into consideration before deep frying your tofu.

Size Matters

There, I said it.  When it comes to deep frying tofu, how you cut it will make a big difference to the texture of the final product.  While you can cut your tofu any way you would like, you have two options.

First:

  • You can cut the tofu into 1 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch pieces like you were baking it.
  • After deep frying, you are going to have firm on the outside.  However, because the oil will probably not have time to penetrate into the middle of the tofu, the center is still going to be chewy and rather tofu-like.
  • This is how it served in a lot of Chinese dishes, but if you are reading this, you probably want something that is not tofu-like so I do not recommend this for tofu beginners.

Second:

  • Cut the tofu into half inch cubes and deep fry.
  • Cubes have much greater ratio of exterior which will get nice and crispy in the oil to interior which stays moist.  The smaller interior means less non-fried tofu texture and a better experience.
  • In fact, if you leave the tofu in the oil long enough, the entire block will get fried.  I don’t necessarily advocate this since it makes for greasy tofu, but it is an idea.

Coating

You also have the option of whether to bread, batter, or otherwise cover the tofu.  The sky is the limit here and I encourage your to play around with different deep fried tofu coatings.  I have three ideas, all of which build off the one before it to get you started.

  1. Naked tofu (wow, this post got racy, didn’t it?)  In all seriousness, just drop the tofu in the hot oil and fry it.  No fuss, no muss.  No extra flavoring and no color, either.
  2. Coat in corn starch.  Either put the tofu in a plastic bag filled with corn starch or put corn starch on a plate and cover the tofu with it.  Shake off the excess and fry.  This promotes browning and will thicken sauces if the tofu is added to it.
  3. Coat in corn meal.  First, pat the tofu dry with a paper towel.  Create a slurry of equal parts water and corn starch.  Dunk the tofu in the slurry and then put it on a plate with corn meal that has been spiced to your liking.  Coat the tofu, shake off the excess and put it in the oil.  Consider doing this a second fry (fry the tofu once to cook it then coat in slurry and corn meal, fry for 15-30 seconds.)

Frying Time

Fry tofu until it is golden brown, which usually takes between 3 and 4 minutes, though it could be longer with a thicker wet batter.  Fry in small batches, too, because tofu has a tendency to clump, especially when coated in a starch.

The sky is the limit when it comes to deep frying tofu.  The important thing is you enjoy!

Anyone else have any tofu coating tips?

If you haven’t read it yet, Part 0 of the series on how to make tofu that doesn’t suck covers some important lessons in preventing sucky tofu.  Espeically the part on pressing.

If you have read Part 0, fantastic!  Let’s move on to the next step: baking it.  In Part 2, we will cover frying it, which is the easy way out.  Part 3 will dicuss stir frying your tofu, Part 4 will look at a few sauces for your tofu and Part 5 will be my favorite recipe for ma po tofu using extra firm tofu instead of silken.  But for now…baking your tofu for fun and pleasure.

This idea came to me while eating at Whole Foods with my wife.  She had filled up a to go container from the salad bar and added some “tofu croutons” to her salad.  These croutons were about an inch and a half long, half an inch wide, and half an inch tall and had obviously been baked for quite a while.

At this point in my veg*n cooking, I was pretty ho hum about tofu.  I knew I needed to eat more of it, but every time I had tried to make it, it sucked.  Thus, it was hunger alone that persuaded me to try one of the croutons.  Honestly, I was expecting mush.  Instead, I got somthing that was firm on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside, and had a mouth feel that in no way resembled soft tofu.  Score!

So, in order to make tofu that doesn’t suck

  1. Either before after the tofu has been pressed cut the tofu into 1 1/2 in by 1/2 in by 1/2 strips.   While the amount of water pressed out of the tofu is probably different if you cut first, I honestly can’t tell the difference.
  2. Cook the tofu low and slow.  In my oven, this means baking it at 250 degrees for an hour.  This produces a firm, crisp exterior and a succulently juicy interior.

I know it takes a long time and if you are in a rush, tune in tomorrow for how to deep fry the tofu which is much faster, it is just not as healthy.

This series is now complete.  If you want to read the other posts, you can find them here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Yes, you heard me right.  Vegan that I am, I can admit it.  Sometimes, tofu sucks, especially if you are not used to eating it.  And there’s two very good reasons why tofu out of the package can suck:

  1. It’s flavor (it has a very subtle soy bean/water flavor)
  2. It’s texture (it’s mushy)

Still, making good tofu is within reach of everyone, even those who don’t think they like it.  But it’s going to take some work and maybe a bit of practice.

This post will begin a series on how to make better tofu.  Tonight I want to address the prework that should go into any tofu preparation.  If you are a big tofu eater and cook it all the time, these steps will probably sound very basic.  However, what I have noticed is that there are a large number of open-minded eaters who refuse to eat tofu because of either #1 or #2 (or both) from the list above.

There is hope.  Once a cook masters these critical precepts, she will be ready for further tofu enlightenment which I shall supply in forthcoming posts.

Precept 1: Beware the soft tofu

Silken tofu has a number of homes: flourless tofu cakes, tofu smoothies, tofu cannoli mix (it’s coming, I promise.)  However, if tofu is going to be the main protein or be prevalent in the dish, avoid silken tofu unless your eaters are VERY accustomed to it.  I eat a lot of tofu and I still can’t get over the way silken tofu squishes in my mouth.

The answer: unless you know your eaters well, get extra firm tofu.  It will be close to something most people expect.

Precept 2: If you ain’t frying, get to saucing

Tofu by itself is not what most poeple call “good.”  That’s why you have to think about really bold sauces.  My personal favorite is a mixture of sriracha and chili garlic sauce (some people call it Chinese ketchup, but it’s basically a little chili and a lot of corn syrup.)  Other favorites include chili oil, soy, and oriental mustard, soy and honey, and barbecue sauce.

If you are deep frying the tofu, sauce matters less as long as the tofu is breaded with something that will bring a little flavor to the party.  Still, having a little rice wine vinegar/soy dipping sauce cannot hurt.  Or like me, go with the soy, chili oil, and oriental mustard.  I love that stuff.

Precept 3: The Press

Once you have the extra firm tofu, you need to get the water out of it.  To do this:

  1. Take the tofu out of the package and drain
  2. Wrap it in a clean towl (not paper towels)
  3. Set a cookie sheet on top of the tofu
  4. Put several cans of something on top of the tofu
  5. Come back in an hour

If you master this techique, even though it takes time, you tofu will be better for it.

So, anyone have any good tofu sauces to share?